Reality hits home as lightning strikes Open One is killed

5 others injured

June 14, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHASKA, Minn. -- Lightning, and tragedy, struck the U.S. Open championship yesterday at Hazeltine National Golf Club outside Minneapolis. One spectator was killed and five others were injured, one seriously, when they were hit by a bolt while standing under a tree near the 11th tee.

According to tournament officials, William Fadell, 27, of Spring Park went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated briefly by paramedics at the scene but later died at a nearby hospital. He was in a group taking shelter from a storm that struck shortly before 1 p.m.

Another spectator, John Hannahan, 43, of Waite Park, was taken to a larger hospital in St. Paul with respiratory arrest, burns and numbness of both legs. He was listed in serious but stable condition early last night.

The other four injured spectators were taken to a hospital in nearby Waconia, where they were listed in stable condition. They were identified as Ray Gavin, Jeffrey Scalick, Glen Engstrom and Scott Aune, all from the Minneapolis area.

Play was resumed a little more than two hours after the lightning struck. Asked whether the USGA had considered postponing the remainder of the round for a day, David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, said last night: "No we did not. We feel badly, but we didn't feel that was an option we had.

"This was a very tragic situation. The U.S. Golf Association feels just terrible. It does intrude on a very fairy-tale type of competition. . . . This was one of those times you wish golf was played in a domed stadium."

The lightning-related fatality is thought to be the first in the 91-year history of the event, as well as the first at a professional golf tournament in the United States. Two spectators were injured when they were hit by lightning during the second round of the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh.

The fatal lightning bolt was one of three or four bolts to strike the course after play was suspended at 12:48 p.m. Witnesses said Fadell and Hannahan were in a group of six people standing under a willow tree 30 feet from the 11th tee. One witness said the incident occurred seven or eight minutes after play had been halted.

"I distinctly remember a guy saying, 'We can ride this out,' " Engstrom told a local television station in his hospital room. "I think he might have been the one that was hurt bad. Luckily, I was the farthest away from the tree. I remember it started raining really hard, and then there was this crash. My legs started to go numb. I have never felt anything like that in my life."

"They went down like bowling pins," said Greg Groom, a spectator who was 30 yards from the tree where the lightning struck, leaving a 15-foot gash in the tree. "One of them still had his hands in his pocket."

Groom and a friend, Scott Johnson, immediately ran over to the fallen spectators. Johnson started to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Fadell and Hannahan, but he said, "I wasn't too confident, and I backed away."

The emergency team, one of two at the Open, came within a minute after being called by officials at the 11th tee, said Mark Polich, chairman for crowd marshals at the Open. Polich said "two doctors and a number of nurses" worked on the injured spectators before two ambulances arrived.

"Clearly, something like this is the nightmare you don't want to have as a golf administrator," Fay said before learning that the spectator had died. "You can deal effectively with players and caddies [getting off the course]. When you have 40,000 people on the course, it's not an exact science to get them."

Polich said the marshals are instructed to inform spectators of the possibility of lightning and to take cover but added, "To be honest, I don't remember whether they [the spectators] were told." In its daily pairing sheet, which is distributed free, the USGA includes a list of places to go, and not to go, when lightning strikes the course.

Fay said the USGA used to use a siren to signal suspension of play, but it was found to be ineffective and was replaced by four or five air horns. Fay also said that the radar used to track yesterday's storm did not pick up lightning and that play was called off only after an official had seen a bolt flash across the sky.

"After 1983, we paid more attention to finding better ways of determining what the weather was going to be," he said. "We have not come up with a solution for what you do with a lot of people on the golf course. I saw a lot of people in the grandstand, and that's not a good place to be."

Most of the 156 players in the field were still on the course when the lightning struck. Lee Trevino, one of three golfers hit by lightning during the Western Open in 1975, was on the 15th hole when play was stopped. Trevino said that yesterday's lightning did not make him relive his own close call.

"Everyone keeps asking me, 'Did it bring back memories?' but there were no problems at all," he said. "I didn't hear about it [the fatality] until I got back to the clubhouse. It's a sad situation. I feel sorry for the people who were hurt and the families of the guy who passed on. Fortunately, we don't have a lot of that. Thank God, it doesn't happen more. Unfortunately, it happened today."

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